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The Platform Promise: S60 Devices From Samsung Print E-mail
Written by SymbianOne   
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Java technology was heralded as write-once-run-everywhere - we know the reality was somewhat different. As the first Samsung S60 devices arrive in the SymbianOne offices Richard Bloor asks if the S60 platform serves Symbian C++ developers better.

The devices

For this test I had access to four of Samsung's S60 devices:

  • SGH-G810 - A slider phone offering a 5 Megapixel camera with optical zoom, GPS, and WLAN that is based on S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 1.
  • SGH-I550 - A candy bar phone with a 2 megapixel camera, trackball cursor control, and GPS, based on S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 1. (WLAN is available on the SGH-I550w.)
  • SGH-I8510 (INNOV8) - A slider phone offering a class leading 8 megapixel camera, GPS, and WLAN that is based on S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2.
  • SGH-L870 - A slider phone with a 3 megapixel camera and calendar and emails shortcut buttons, based on S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 2. This particular device has pre-production software.

The approach

There are literally thousands of native Symbian C++ applications for S60 devices. Devising a practical approach to evaluating the compatibility of native S60 software with these Samsung phones necessitated some careful selection. This resulted in choosing a range of applications and utilities as follows:

  • The essentials. These are the applications I rely on every day, so their failure on a Samsung S60 device would be a big deal.
  • Location based. Three of the four Samsung devices come with integrated GPS (the SGH-L870 offers network based location positioning) so this seemed a worthwhile area to test.
  • VoIP. An area receiving a lot of attention and one that has attracted some criticism regarding Symbian OS and S60 API support.
  • Developer utilities. The S60 SDKs and Carbide.c++ include a number of utilities for S60 devices to support everything from position simulation to debugging. There is also Python for S60, which is included in theS60 platform's list of runtimes.

The SGH-I8510 was the last phone to become available for this review. When it did I had already completed much of the planned testing only to find that three of the applications I had chosen - Google Maps, Fring and GyPSii - were shipped in firmware on the SGH-I8510.

The essential applications

First up we have Screenshot. This excellent freeware application from Antony Pranata may not exactly be in day-to-day use, but is certainly the first application that makes it onto any new S60 device I test. On all the devices it installs and works at least as well as it does on any other S60 device. This slightly guarded comment is due to the fact that the default option to capture a screen by pressing the device's camera button does not work on any of the Samsung devices, as it does not work on several Nokia S60 devices too. Also the edit key activations do not work on those devices without a dedicated edit key, which the SGH-L870 only possesses.

Next are two applications in true day-to-day use: Punch2Go and Projekt. Punch2Go from Wib Software is a time recording application that I have used for a while. The convenience of an always to hand time recording mechanism and a comprehensive set of reporting and export features, makes this application a must for anyone who needs to account for their work time. Punch2Go installed and worked perfectly.

Projekt by Kylom is another application that has become indispensible. Its ability to maintain a hierarchical list with priorities and date information, along with comprehensive sorting and filtering, means it has become the repository for all my work tasks. Again this application installs and works perfectly.

Punch2Go on the SGH-L870 and Kylom on the SGH-G810

Both Punch2Go and Projekt include features to save and send their data. These features also worked as expected, with files being readily sent via Bluetooth or saved on the devices. It should be noted, however, that Projekt does not include multiple drive support (MDS) so on the INNOV8 this means files can only be saved to the internal mass storage or phone memory. (Punch2Go only saves exported files to the phone memory.) As the S60 APIs needed to take full advantage of this feature were only released in June, this lack of support is not surprising (and probably not limited to these two applications.) It is also worth noting that both applications correctly switched screen orientation on the INNOV8 when the device was moved between landscape and portrait orientation.

I would also include Quickoffice in my list of daily use applications. I did not test it, however, as it comes pre-installed on all of the Samsung devices. The included versions are the viewer option of version 3 on the SGH-G810 and SGH-I550 and vesrion 4.1 on the SGH-I8510, while version 4.5 with editing is available on the L870. I did however test Quickaccess, which worked as expected.

Quickaccess on the SGH-I8510

The one disappointment was VoiceMode. This application allows you to voice dictate short messages or text strings to an S60 device. The issue with this application was not one of software compatibility; it never allowed this to be tested as the installation file is locked to Nokia S60 devices only.

The GPS applications

There is no shortage of GPS applications for S60 devices, the market having literally exploded since the introduction of GPS on the Nokia N95. Google Maps seemed an obvious choice; GyPSii was my next pick and finally ViewRanger.

Google Maps needs no introduction. It installed and worked as expected. GyPSii is a location based social networking service that allows users to upload photos and videos. This application worked largely as expected. On the SGH-L870, GyPSii reported that the camera was not a supported feature, when an attempt was made to add a new image to a "place me" record. On the SGH-I8510 there were no such problems. (I checked this feature with a couple of other applications and did not find similar problems, so concluded the issue must be related to either GyPSii on Feature Pack 2 devices or due to the SGH-L870's pre-production firmware, rather than a platform compatibility issue.)

Google maps on the SGH-W550 and GyPSii on the SGH-G810

Finally, I tried ViewRanger. This application is best described as an off-road GPS system. It uses topographical maps and offers some unique features, such as the ability to create topographically accurate panoramas. ViewRanger does not provide mapping for New Zealand, but I have made use of this application in the UK and it is impressive. All the same, features such as buddy tracking and track recording all worked as expected even though mapping was not available.

ViewRanger on the SGH-W550

One issue I did find was that the network based location option did not seem to work on any of the devices. I suspect this was due to limitations in my Vodafone NZ connection but, as the error displayed when trying to use this location method contained no text it is hard to tell. This meant that these applications were not practically tested on the SGH-L870, which offers network based location positioning only.

The VoIP applications

VoIP was a less fruitful area. Truphone would not install (the installation package is locked to Nokia S60 devices) and the native version of Gizmo5 requires a Nokia signed component to work.

Fring did work, but only on the SGH-I550 and SGH-I8510 (where it is preinstalled). On the other devices Fring was unable to install a Nokia component that provides services for VoIP audio. I did ask Fring about the changes made for the SGH-W550 and SGH-I8510, but they declined to provide any details. They did say that support for other Samsung devices would follow shortly. Why the solution for the SGH-W550 and SGH-I8510 does not automatically encompass the other Samsung S60 devices is therefore unclear, hopefully it is just a case of Fring being cautious. My assumption is that the solution involves using the VoIP Audio Service API, which became available as an extension API for S60 3rd Edition, Feature Pack 1. This (and any of the extension APIs) are not formally part of the platform, so may vary from device to device, hence the lack of Fring support for all Samsung S60 devices.

Fring on the SGH-W550

Text-to-Speech

One other area I considered was text-to-speech (TTS), specifically Talks from Nuance. This application is designed to help the visually impaired with screen zooming and talking back of screen contents. Unfortunately none of the Samsung devices include a TTS component. So while the application installed on all of the Samsung devices it would not enable, even with the TTS capability turned off.

Some obvious failures

Software for Nokia services and Nokia Beta Labs offerings - such as Gizmo5, Nokia Maps, and Sport Tracker -would not install on the Samsung devices. I found one exception, the enhanced S60 calculator. This Java application could be installed, but failed to start on all four devices, presumably Nokia has used a hidden Nokia only API to prevent the application from working on other S60 devices.

As these offerings are about differentiating Nokia devices and offering Nokia users added value to retain their loyalty, the inability to install them on Samsungs S60 devices is not surprising.

It does however create an interesting challenge for Samsung. The availability of these applications, particularly those from the Beta Labs, is capturing early adopters and those with aspirations of being technically astute. While this may be a small part of the buying public, it is an important sector to cultivate as they drive a blog space presence. It will be interesting to see how and when Samsung rises to this challenge.

Developer tools

Developer tools would seem to be an unlikely area in which to encounter installation issues. Python for S60 is marketed as an S60 runtime - an integral part of the platform promise even though it is an after market installation. Similarly the S60 SDK tools, such as the Simulated PSY Configurator are delivered in a generic S60 SDK and tools such as TRK or the Performance Investigator included in a product, Carbide.c++, marketed to all S60 developers.

However, in all cases these tools failed to install on the Samsung S60 devices, in every case due to certification issues. Given the way S60 and Carbide.c++ are marketed this seems odd, however it is not from a technical perspective. Each of these tools almost certainly requires access to Symbian OS capabilities that a device manufacturer only can grant.

This is another challenge Samsung is hopefully looking to address. It is also something Nokia probably needs to work towards addressing, as a greater range of S60 devices become available from other licensees. For Samsung it is not so much a technical requirement (as it seems that S60 software, which will have been developed using at least some of these tools, works on Samsung S60 devices). It is more about mindshare. Putting Samsung devices in the hands of developers is more likely to drive innovation that takes advantage of the differentiating features of Samsung's S60 devices.

Conclusion

This short review could not be considered as a comprehensive test of compatibility between the Samsung S60 devices and those from other manufacturers. However, I feel it is enough to conclude that the S60 platform does live up to its promise that a Symbian C++ application built for S60 3rd Edition will run unchanged on any device created using the platform APIs.

The issues I found seem to clearly lead back to specific components that, at least at some point, were not part of the S60 platform. In general, therefore, developers who are not working with extension APIs or differentiating features can be reasonably assured that their application will work on Samsung's devices just as they do on Nokia's.

For Samsung there are two clear challenges: how to leverage the S60 platform as a tool to deliver services - in the way Nokia has done with Maps and N-Gage - and how to support developers with the tools and utilities they are familiar with for Nokia devices.

Last Updated ( Monday, 01 September 2008 )
 


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